A Denver House That Inspired A Horror Film

In The Spirit of Halloween, Ghostly Tales from a Cheesman Park Residence

The 1980 film The Changeling is based on the paranormal events Russell Hunter experienced while living in an old home near Cheesman Park in the late 1960s.

Hunter had worked as a musical arranger for CBS-TV in New York City, but moved to Colorado in the mid-1960s to help his parents manage the Three Birches Lodge in Boulder. In the late 1960s, Hunter began looking for an apartment in Denver where he could live and work on his music. He rented a home at 1739 East 13th Avenue (which has since been torn down).

Hunter claimed that beginning on February 9, 1969, he started experiencing strange phenomenon in the house. First there was the “unbelievable banging and crashing” that occurred every morning at 6 a.m. (and stopped as soon as Hunter’s feet would touch the floor). Then, faucets began to turn on by themselves and doors opened and closed on their own. Walls vibrated violently, tossing paintings to the floor.

Shortly thereafter, Hunter and an architect friend uncovered a hidden staircase in the back of a closet. The stairway led to the third floor of the home where Hunter found a child’s trunk containing “a nine-year-old’s schoolbooks and journal from a century ago.” The journal detailed the life of a disabled boy who was kept in isolation. The boy wrote about his favorite toy, a red rubber ball. A few nights after discovering the trunk, a red rubber ball dropped from the top of a spiral staircase in the home.

Hunter claimed that a séance revealed the story of a sickly child who was heir to a fortune from his maternal grandfather. When the child became gravely ill, his parents worried that the boy’s inheritance would pass to a different branch of the family. When their son died, the couple secretly buried him in a field in southeast Denver and adopted a boy from a local orphanage who perfectly resembled their deceased son. They trained him to take on the identity of the deceased boy (hence, the “changeling” film title) and the boy went on to become well-educated and successful.

Hunter declared that it was the deceased child who spoke through him at the séance, revealing directions to his burial place under a house on South Dahlia Street. Hunter stated that after gaining permission to dig under that home, human remains and a gold medallion inscribed with the deceased boy’s name were found in the grave. A few days later, Hunter stated that he began to experience more violent ghostly activity in his home. He said, “glass doors blew up in my face and severed an artery in my wrist. The inner walls over the head of my bed violently imploded.”

Hunter left the house and only returned to it again to watch its demolition make way for a high-rise apartment building. He remarked of the razing, “As the walls of the wing which had contained my bedroom collapsed, they suddenly flew outward and crushed to death the man operating the bulldozer.”

As Phil Goodstein points out in his 1996 book The Ghosts of Denver: Capitol Hill, the historical details in Hunter’s story don’t exactly check out.

What can historical records tell us about the house and people that inspired the The Changeling? Next Wednesday, we’ll consult resources readily available in the Western History & Genealogy Department to fact check this frightening ghost story!

[Want to hear more about Russell's recollection of his paranormal experiences? See "The Changeling: Denver's $8 Million Ghost" by Russell Hunter in Denver Magazine, v. 10, April 1980, p. 48 — available for research in DPL's Western History Department).

Absolutely! I saw it as a kid and couldn't sleep after that. I saw it last year, and yep, still extremely scary. That soundtrack is perfect for shivers up the spine. Movie poster sucks. They shouldn't give it away like that.

Just that red rubber ball bouncing down the stairs soaking wet after it had been thrown in the river gives me the shivers, better than any modern day shock and gore so-called horror.

Ohh man, I saw the ball come bouncing down those stairs! I am like the hell out of that house. All the paranormal stuff I couldn't take that. Would give me nightmares and scare me half to death. I believe in ghosts and that's explation for everything. Still the best horror movie.


Be sure to check out our two other posts on The Changeling:




One of the first scary movies I ever watched as a kid, and still my favorite. to this day, I cannot walk up a flight of stairs without watching the top to see if a goddam little wheelchair comes rolling to the edge...

This made me cackle. Thank you. Like everyone else here, I love this movie so much. Doing up the bathroom in a house for a party this Saturday and stumbled on this article. This movie still scares me. I love it!


The Changeling is one of the Best suspense horror movies and with a good cast too used to have it on home video


The Changeling is one of the Best suspense horror movies and with a good cast too used to have it on home video

Hi Francesca! You may interested to know that DPL has two DVD copies of The Changeling in circulation:


The bathtub scene scared me to death! After seeing the movie, the lights had to be on in the bathroom and I couldn't look at the tub!


My family (parents w/ 7 kids) moved into this house in '59, when I was 8 yrs.-old. I was a huge house with two separate stair cases leading to the second floor, one with a halfway landing and the other was an enclosed spiral coming off the kitchen (for previous servants). I never experienced any paranormal activities (perhaps the ghost enjoyed the company of all the children). I still have a photo of what it looked like in 1960 ish.


It's Halloween night and I'm watching it right now on HBO. Can't think of a better film for the occasion. Best horror ever!


Favorite scariest part is when that ball comes bouncing down the stairs after John threw it into the river.... Still wet....

I don't like when the little girl's mother is relaying her daughter's nightmare the previous Monday to John Russell. Don't rally know why, maybe the acting because she was good. I only ever watch it with the wife on DVD.


We did the Banjo Billy's Ghost Tour on Halloween and this was one of the stories they told! The location is called the Summer House now. Never seen the movie, just ordered it!


Definitely my favorite horror movie. I love that it's scary, suspenseful, and investigative. Have it on VHS and DVD. I watch it at least once a year and it still gives me chills. I enjoyed reading this article that inspired the film.


Does anyone know who the child actor was? I have tried looking but it doesn't appear anywhere I have looked. I love this movie and have since the first time I saw it. the basic premise of this movie is perfect he doesn't need blood it doesn't need or it is a truly terrifying movie and you become part of the movie. I love that it makes you actually scared because you think about it , not using cheesy visuals to make you scared.

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